capsule review

HP HPE Phoenix h9 Series: Small Tower Packs a Punch

At a Glance
  • HPE Phoenix h9

    PCWorld Rating

    Performance machines aren't usually known for their slim, svelte towers--but the HPE Phoenix h9 packs a lot of punch in a very small case.

Performance desktop PCs come in many different shapes, but they usually only come in one size: really, really big. You have to squeeze the liquid cooling array and the extra fans in there somehow, right? Well, HP's HPE Phoenix h9 Series is a performance machine--with the specs to back that claim up--in a nice little micro-tower designed to fit easily on your desk.

Our review model, priced at $2899, sports an Intel Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition processor, a whopping 16GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive (along with a 160GB solid-state drive), and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 graphics card. HP is currently offering a similarly configured unit with a slightly larger Solid State Drive (256GB), and an AMD Radeon HD 7950 graphics card at the same price. The HPE Phoenix h9 also features an 802.11n Wi-Fi card, a Blu-ray disc player, some pretty red interior lights, and runs a 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium.

The slick black-and-gray HPE Phoenix h9 micro-tower measures approximately 16.2 inches long by 6.9 inches wide by just 16.3 inches high. But don't let its diminutive size fool you: In PCWorld's WorldBench 6 benchmarking tests, the HPE Phoenix h9 scored an impressive 186. While not the best score we've seen, it's still a very good mark in the highly competitive Performance Desktop PC category.

The machine also fared well on our graphics tests. On our Far Cry 2 graphics tests, the Phoenix managed a frame rate of 78 frames per second (at highest quality settings and 2560-by-1600-pixel resolution). By comparison, the AVADirect X79 Silent Gaming PC managed 80 fps on the same test.

The HPE Phoenix h9's case combines shades of gray and black on the front and top, with dark gray metal sides. The front of the tower has two optical drive bays (one filled and one empty). A shiny black plastic door slides down to reveal a multiformat card reader and four USB 2.0 ports. A medium-size plastic window on the right side panel gives you a look inside the chassis.

On top of the PC, you'll find basic a Beats Audio-enhanced headphone jack, a microphone jack, and two USB 3.0 ports. The back of the machine houses two USB 2.0 ports (bringing the PC's total to six), two USB 3.0 ports (for a total of four), optical audio-out, gigabit ethernet, and support for 7.1 surround sound. The Nvidia graphics card has two DVI ports and an HDMI-out.

The HPE Phoenix h9's small stature does leave less room for upgrading. Though the interior is surprisingly roomy, a lot of excess metal--starting with a large metal bar in the middle of the PC--obstructs access. Still, you'll find a couple of open PCIe slots (one x1 and one x16), an open 5.25-inch bay, and two open 3.5-inch bays. The wiring is all tied down, and fairly neat.

The HPE Phoenix h9 comes with a wired keyboard and a wired mouse. The keyboard has flat, regular-style keys, volume control buttons, and a special Function key (the 'b' key) for Beats Audio. The mouse is a standard two-button-and-scroll-wheel device.

Its price of $2899 puts the HP HPE Phoenix h9 in the same ballpark as our other top performance machines. HP couples the Phoenix's unlocked Extreme Edition processor with a liquid CPU cooler. That combination helps keep things quiet, and it also leaves room for intrepid users to coax a bit more out of their machine with overclocking.

The Phoenix's main drawbacks are its limited hard drive space (just 500GB), its offering of a Blu-ray player in lieu of a Blu-ray writer, and its lack of Bluetooth. Though HP invites you to upgrade to all of those features on the HP website (at a cost of $50 for a larger hard drive, $80 for the Blu-ray writer, and $20 for Blu-ray), I'd have expected these features to come standard on a nearly-$3000 machine.

If you're looking for a performance machine that won't break your back (but might break your bank account), the Phoenix h9 is worth a look.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Performance machines aren't usually known for their slim, svelte towers--but the HPE Phoenix h9 packs a lot of punch in a very small case.

    Pros

    • Petite chassis
    • Excellent performance

    Cons

    • Plain, wired peripherals
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